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Thibaut Courtois’ struggles are an embodiment of Real Madrid’s hubris

Real Madrid had Keylor Navas, then sold him over the summer. On Tuesday, they watched him play stupendously for PSG while Courtois struggled.

Photo of Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on the ground as he fails to stop the ball from going in the net.

Real Madrid outplayed Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday in every aspect except one: goalkeeping. The 2-2 draw was only possible because PSG keeper Keylor Navas was superb, and because Madrid couldn’t coax the same level of play from its keeper, Thibaut Courtois.

Navas prevented Madrid from putting the game beyond reach, despite their high number of chances. The PSG keeper made 10 saves, and with a lesser man in net, his team probably would have conceded three or four goals. Here’s the game’s win probability and how each team’s Expected Goals progressed, via StatsBomb.

PSG was allowed to get back into the game due to a bad miscommunication between Courtois and Raphäel Varane on a pass into the box that should have been dealt with easily.

Madrid was also only able to dominate control of the game with some help from VAR. Courtois gave away a penalty and was shown a red card for a dangerous challenge, only for the call to be wiped off the board because of an unrelated foul that occurred 10 seconds earlier in the build-up.

Real Madrid could have had the better keeper in net if they wanted. Navas, the former Madrid No. 1, was sold to PSG over the summer. Los Merengues bought Courtois in 2018 because they thought they could do better in goal than Navas, even though the Costa Rican had helped them to three Champions League titles. The two worked as a platoon last season, putting up relatively equal numbers, though Navas was a significantly better shot stopper.

In the small sample size of this year’s Champions League games, Navas is still wiping the floor with Courtois head-to-head. He’s been among the best shot-stoppers in the competition, while Courtois has been exactly average.

Courtois is certainly not a bad goalkeeper, and he shouldn’t be blamed for being misevaluated. But he’s not as good as Navas, who Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez seemingly sold out of pride. For him to sell Courtois after just one season with the club, or let his manager pick the best performing goalkeeper, would be to admit that he has always been wrong about Navas, who he has been trying to get rid of since at least 2015. Not even multiple Champions League trophies could convince the notoriously stubborn Madrid president of Navas’ quality.

Real Madrid shouldn’t have tried to replace Navas in the first place. Perez doubled down on Courtois instead of admitting his mistake, and now Madrid is paying for it.